Dear NYTimes: It's Called 'Diplomacy'
Today's New York Times print edition features an editorial concerning the findings of the most recent IAEA report on Iran's nuclear program. The piece begins with a standard, preemptive condemnation of Iran for pursuing nuclear weapons, followed by a prescription for harsher sanctions. Yet, in the very next paragraph succeeding this prescription, the editorial board expresses doubt that sanctions will do any good in deterring Iran from developing a nuclear weapon:
We’re not sure any mix of sanctions and inducements can wean Tehran of its nuclear ambitions. We are sure that a military attack would be a disaster — and the current saber-rattling from Israel should make everyone nervous. A military strike would not set back Iran’s program for very long. It would rally Iranians around their illegitimate government. And it would produce a huge anti-Israeli and anti-American backlash around the world — whether or not Washington had tried to stop it.
It seems that the Times editorial board is dancing around something as if it's lost for words. Or perhaps it simply refuses to acknowledge the obvious. It recognizes that sanctions may not work in resolving this issue. It recognizes that a military attack would be disastrous. But in prescribing additional, tougher sanctions, the Times establishes a false dichotomy. The options are not sanctions or war. These are not the only instruments at our disposal.
The word you're looking for, New York Times editorial board, is 'diplomacy.'
Perhaps you lump diplomacy in with sanctions, or with inducements, but diplomacy is neither of those things. It is not a reward for good behavior--it is how one comes to understand the position of an opposing party, and how two parties come to resolve their conflict.
One of the primary stumbling blocks in US-Iran relations has been the lack of information available to inform policy. The US has had very little diplomatic contact with Iran in the past 30 years, causing it to know very little about how the Iranian government works, what informs its polices, and what its intentions are in its endeavors.
Debate over Iran's nuclear program revolves around precisely one of these issues: intentions. Does Iran intend to develop a nuclear weapon? We don't know. How do we resolve this knowledge gap? Sanctions won't do it; nor will war. Only diplomatic contact can aid us in understanding Iran's intentions concerning its nuclear program.
Diplomacy is also the only method by which a resolution to a conflict can be obtained. If you want a resolution, you engage in diplomacy. If you don't want a resolution, then you ignore it. Sanctions do not directly lead to resolution, nor do military strikes. These methods only attempt to coerce the other party into entering negotiations at a disadvantage--that, or to annihilate the opponent. But unless you aim for annihilation, you have to engage in negotiations before the conflict can be resolved. Thus, those who continuously refuse to engage in diplomacy give credence to the view that they do not seek resolution but annihilation--in this case, annihilation in the form of regime change.
If the New York Times editorial board wishes to see a resolution to the tensions between Iran and the US, it would follow NIAC's Reza Marashi's lead and expend its energy on calling for direct diplomatic contact between the two countries, not additional sanctions. It would publish an editorial condemning HR 1905, the Iran Threat Reduction Act of 2011, which has 349 cosponsors and passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee on November 2nd with a provision to make contact between many US and Iranian officials illegal.
Now that it has the words, let us see if it has the will.